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Looking Ahead to the Summer: What Do The Oilers Need?

Opening Night 2011. What do the Oilers need to add before Opening Night 2012?
Opening Night 2011. What do the Oilers need to add before Opening Night 2012?

The quick/sarcastic answer to the question "What do the Oilers need to add this summer?" is everything. There are certainly some pieces of a good NHL team already in place but after another lottery pick season there are clearly still pieces missing as well. With another first overall selection in this year's entry draft the Oilers will have the opportunity to add another player potentially capable of playing the NHL as early as next season but the team will also be making some additions, or subtractions depending on your point of view, through free agency and trades this summer as they continue the slow and steady rebuilding process.

Using an idea borrowed from the good folks at Defending Big D I take a look at the Oilers overall system after the jump and gaze into my crystal ball a little thinking ahead to the summer to identify what the Oilers need to address through free agency and trades.

Before we get started a couple of quick notes on the depth charts: The salaries listed are the cap hits for next season courtesy of Cap Geek and the year listed is when the contract will end. For those players with bonuses I've included the bonuses as those have to be accounted for under the salary cap. You'll notice some immediate holes in the lineup as I've excluded all players not under contract for next season in order to give a better idea of exactly what holes exist in the Oilers roster.

Up first the forwards.

Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Taylor Hall 3.750 (2013) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 3.775 (2014) Jordan Eberle 1.158 (2013)
Magnus Paajarvi 1.525 (2013) ----- Ales Hemsky 5.000 (2014)
Ryan Jones 1.500 (2013) Shawn Horcoff 5.500 (2015) -----
----- Eric Belanger 1.750 (2014) Ben Eager 1.100 (2014)
In the sysytem
Teemu Hartikainen 0.875 (2013) Anton Lander 0.900 (2014) Mark Arcobello 0.900 (2013)
Curtis Hamilton 0.900 (2014) Tanner House 0.600 (2013) Tyler Pitlick 0.900 (2014)
Phillipe Cornet 0.580 (2013) Ryan Martindale 0.690 (2014) Cameron Abney 0.588 (2014)
Antti Tyrvainen 0.570 (2013) Toni Rajala 0.816 (2014)

And the forwards set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1 with last season's cap hit for reference:
Ryan Smyth - 6.250
Lennart Petrell - 0.900
Darcy Hordichuk - 0.825
Ryan Keller - 0.625
Josh Green - 0.575

And the soon to be restricted free agents:
Sam Gagner - 2.275
Linus Omark - 0.875
Chris Vande Velde - 0.850
Hunter Tremblay - 0.565
Milan Kytnar - 0.563

It's surprised me in recent seasons to see how few available roster spots there are on a team that finished last, or in this case 29th, the season before. Surprise, surprise, it's the same thing this time around as well with only one spot at each forward position open as it stands right now. Despite the delays in getting his name on a new contract I do think Smyth will return next year, as will Gagner and Petrell which will more or less round out the Oilers lineup making training camp little more than a battle for the 11 through 14 spots on the roster.

As you can no doubt see, there isn't much space for any notable free agent additions unless the Oilers plan to bury a player like Eager, or possibly even Belanger, in the minors. With the slew of forwards that will be looking for new contracts at this time next year that is likely a good thing as it will give the Oilers a little more cap flexibility. If there are going to be changes up front it will likely come in the form of depth additions to the third or fourth lines - much like the Belanger, Eager, and Hordichuk signings last summer - or through a trade.

If the Oilers do go the trade route Omark, Paajarvi, and Gagner (in that order) would be the three I would list as most likely to be moved. Thanks to the team's draft lottery win, the potential addition of Nail Yakupov to the Oilers system gives the team a lot of options when it comes to making trades, especially if the Oilers intend to play him in the NHL next season. All of this make the entry draft and the days leading up to it very interesting for Oilers fans.

Which brings us to the defence.

Left Defence Right Defence
Ladislav Smid 2.250 (2013) -----
Ryan Whitney 4.000 (2013) Nick Schultz 3.500 (2014)
Andy Sutton 1.750 (2013) Corey Potter 0.775 (2014)
In the system:
Taylor Fedun 0.900 (2013) Colten Teubert 0.916 (2013)
Martin Marincin 0.900 (2015)

Again the UFAs:
Taylor Chorney - 0.735
Bryan Rodney - 0.525

And the RFAs
Cam Barker - 2.250
Theo Peckham - 1.075
Jeff Petry - 1.000
Alex Plante - 1.075

The Oilers have made it clear that they will be sticking with a 39 year-old Khabibulin for next season and the defence is still the most troubling component of the team's roster as the players already under contract essentially make up the bulk of the Oilers defence from the season that just ended. And for those who might have forgotten, that defence wasn't very good.

If we assume that the Oilers re-sign Petry he will join Smid and Schultz as the only players that can be depended on to playing on the team's top two pairings. A healthy Whitney could make that a group of four but unless his ankle progresses significantly during the offseason depending on him to play even a second pairing role will end very badly for the Oilers. It can't be said enough the Oilers need to add a top pairing defenceman. If a trade partner can't be found then the team will have to go the UFA route or risk the season hoping on Whitney's ankle problems to go away.

If the Oilers are really concerned about Whitney's ankle, and I would be, it would be prudent to add not one but two denfencemen. This would give the Oilers some depth on the blue line in the event that any of the top four get injured and if by some miracle Whitney could get back to what he once was then the Oilers would have an NHL calibre defence for the first time since Tambellini took the reigns.

Lastly let's look at the men between the pipes.

Nikolai Khabibulin 4.000 (2013)
In the system:
Olivier Roy 0.700 (2014)
Tyler Bunz 0.618 (2015)

And one last time the UFAs:
Yann Danis - 0.650

And the RFAs:
Devan Dubnyk - 0.800

As much as the fans might like to see something change here nothing will. Dubnyk will be returning as the starting goalie, which is a good thing, and Khabibulin will hang around for the fourth and final year of his contract as the backup, which is a bad thing. The only addition the Oilers will need to make will be on the farm where they will need to either re-sign or find a replacement for Danis, someone who will likely be splitting time with Roy as he moves up to the Barons leaving the starting job in Stockton to Bunz.

If I was a gambling man I'd say the Oilers do very little in free agency this summer. For my money the number one priority is the blue line but that won't be an easy problem to solve. Looking at the overall system what do you think?